Breaking Smart Notes # 4

Name of Essay: Purist Versus Pragmatists

There are two approaches to technology:

Purist

  • Not agile. 
  • Precious about the way things should be.
  •  Careful about keeping technology pure.
  • Mixing and matching is not welcome.
  • Start complex.

Pragmatist  

  • Agile. 
  • Not precious about the way things should be.
  • Leave out what doesn't work.
  • Mixing and matching is welcome.
  • Start simple.
  • creative

In the late 90s there were passionate debates about browsers and the future of the internet. 

  • There were purists that didn't like the messy way in which the browser was developing. 
  • Pragmatists saw the browser evolving as it should: embodying many contending ideas.
    • The vision of pragmatists eventually won when it came to the future of the internet. 

The pragmatic approach to technology is the dominant way that software is used.

This pragmatic, agile approach to building things has spread to things other than the internet: engineering, business, politics.  

Purist building was necessary back then—because if you failed the first time, you might not get another chance—but not anymore. 

  • Trial and error was too risky and slow, so productivity was favored over creativity.

With the help of smaller and cheaper computers, hands-on hacking became possible. 

  • programers turned from an interchangeable member of a large team to a uniquely creative hacker who pursued personal goals.   

A group of researchers called the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) set out to lay out what would become the "government" of the internet. 

  • Their pragmatist beliefs is embodied in this quote: "We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code."

In the 80's Japan set out on a purist, government-led approach to software. They hit a dead end, while the pragmatic U.S. created the modern internet. 

The pragmatic approach is the best approach in every field now that everything is eaten by software.

Breaking Smart Notes # 3

Name of Essay: Towards a Mass Flourishing

These essays are not about answering 'what' or 'when' — they are about explaining 'how'

  • instead of trying to predict the future, and therefore limiting ourselves, we need to have a hacker ethos.
    • trying to predict the future is of a "pastoral mindset." It causes us to be attached to a 'what' and 'when' which is costly if we're wrong.
    • Inventing the future is easier than predicting it.

Small teams are better than corporations. "Small enough to be fed by two pizzas."

  • Because it's more flexible. More opportunity for experimentation.
  • Long term, strict and expensive scripts (like school) will have a diminishing role in shaping the future.

There are four characteristics of how the future will emerge:

  1. As collaboration technologies improve, the innovative culture from Silicon Valley will spread.
  2. It will unfold through small two pizza groups who will have very large impacts. 
  3. Gradual improvement of well-being and quality of life will increase across the world.
    • It won't be smooth but the overall trend will be upwards.
  4. Rapid decline in the cost of solutions to problems. From everything to education and healthcare. 

This positive incline can can be called "slouching utopia": a condition of gradual, increasing quality of life available, at gradually declining cost, to a gradually expanding portion of the global population. 

The future of work

People will engage in satisfying new needs in ways that can't be anticipated. 

While we can't predict exactly what the work will be the future, we can say that it will "take on an experimental, trial-and-error character." 

  • work will be about getting constant feedback and improvement. Constant learning. (hacker ethos)

Work will be challenging and therefore fulfilling. The unchallenging and predictable work will be taken by machines. 

  • That vision is called 'mass flourishing', coined by Edmund Phelps.

We are "slouching towards a consumer and producer utopia"

That may sound overly dramatic but — when you take into consideration how language and money has changed humanity, and realize that software is even more powerful than those — it is not so crazy to think that. 

Breaking Smart Notes # 2

Name of essay: Getting Reoriented

Software is eating the world.

We underestimate the increasing power of software. 

4 Reasons why. First 3 are not unique to this software era.

  1. Technological change unfolds exponentially (like compound interest) — we overestimate the effect of technology in the short run and underestimate in the long run.
  2. During the transition, it gets chaotic. We shift our attention from the quiet change to the economic crises, political affairs and apocalyptic fears. 
  3. Impact of software appears in disguised form. i.e. drones appear to be driven by hardware innovations, but it was mostly software innovations.
  4. The most important and unique takeaway is that we underestimate this revolution because it is led by “brash young kids rather than sober adults."

Using software as leverage, people don’t have to follow a strict social order to create economic, political and social wealth, unlike before. 

To get ahead, you must adopt a hacker ethos — "a problem solving sensibility based on rapid trial-and-error and creative improvisation. "

Software has disrupted the traditional life script, which went like this: 12 years of regimented industrial schooling, 4 years devoted to specialization, lifetime employment with predictable seniority-based promotions, and middle-class lifestyles.

  • “Instead of software, the traditional script runs on what we might call paperware: bureaucratic processes constructed from the older soft technologies of writing and money. Instead of the hackers ethos of flexible and creative improvisation, it is based on the credentials ethos of degrees, certification, licenses and regulations. Instead of being based on achieving financial autonomy early, it is based on taking significant debt (for college and home ownership) early.”
    • This was once a life style that worked but not anymore. Despite that, many people are still following that path and betting on the old social order. 

Software is a Promethean technology: it emerged within a mature, industrial social order (AT&T, IBM, DARPA, MIT), but its true potential was unleashed by an emerging one (Silicon Valley), which gains power as a result. 

Each of us are faced with a dilemma: "should I abandon some of my investments in the industrial social order and join the dynamic new social order, or hold on to the status quo as long as possible?”

  • While some are breaking out of it, others are choosing to hold on to it more tenaciously than ever.
    • the latter can be said to have a “pastoral mindset” — one marked by yearning for lost or unattained utopias.
  • “The future depends on increasing numbers of people choosing the Promethean option."

My Thoughts

The main takeaway I got from this essay is the importance of shifting our mindset. To get ahead in this new wold dominated by software, we need to embrace the uncertainties. We need to be open to experiment and stop relying on the predictable and rigid path that was laid out during the industrial era.  

To do this, we need to adopt an entrepreneurial sensibility, where we do less planning and more creating through trial-and-error. Software is so accessible that anyone connected to the developing world can be like this.

This essay elicits frustration from me because, when I look around, I see many people betting on the old path. I see many young kids being put on a system that no longer sets them up for success. I see many parents that believe in the importance of traditional school and college more than ever. I see many people who think the solution to our lagging educational system is to throw more money at it. 

Many people are unknowingly setting themselves up, or being set up, for failure. This will continue unless they fundamentally change their mindset.

Breaking Smart Notes # 1

Name of Essay: A New Soft Technology

Software started blowing up around the year 2000. It existed before, but it was mostly used to solve problems of the industrial age rather than to explore possibilities.

"After written language and money, software is only the third major soft technology to appear in human civilization."

Soft technology: an innovation that can be used in a variety of physical forms.

  • think of money - it can be embodied in credit cards, checks, paper, coins, precious metals.
  • similarly, software can be embodied in any sort of computing hardware. 
    • Unlike money, though, software can be applied to almost everything — from cars to light bulbs. Eventually, hardware will be so cheap that software will be in everything. (it’s eating the world!) This vision is called the Internet of Things.

The societal impact if software is more profound than what economic numbers show. For example, it has allowed young people who aren't in any labor statistics to learn programming and contribute to open-source projects, and get to a professional level quickly.  This is what it means to break smart.

  • "Breaking smart: an economic actor using early mastery of emerging technological leverage to wield disproportionate influence on the emerging future." 

Today, a kid could create so much economic value with just a computer and an internet connection. The return of investment can easily be as significant as paying 100k over 4 years to acquire a degree. In the most extreme cases it can be as significant as the creation of a new industry. 

  • an extreme example is when Shawn Fanning created Napster as a teen, which created an explosion in independent music production. 

Because of the fact that computing potential is constantly increasing we are headed towards the collective vision called the Internet of Things.

  • Putting a chip and software into everything is estimated to bring around 2.7 to 14 trillion in economic value: comparable to the entire GDP of the US

Software & Ridesharing

The story of Uber and Lyft can explain the subtle yet profound impact that software has on the economy.

At first these companies seemed like they were just an easy way to finding and paying for rides. Then it became obvious that they completely eliminated human dispatchers and lowered the level of expertise required for driver. It also solved the problem of trust and safety through GPS tracking and ratings.

All of that allowed for an increase in driver supply and lowering of cost.

This ridesharing revolution has had second-hand effects

  • The increased convenience created more careless lifestyles.
  • People now are willing to go to places where it was inconvenient before with public transportation
  • Suburbanization, which is driven in part by car ownership, is being disrupted
  • Lower demand of cars. This leads to lowered lifestyle cost and spare money that is used for other things.

The software infrastructure used for ridesharing is effecting businesses like delivery services and is paving the way for driverless cars. 

Our relationship to cars is changing

  • "To generations of Americans, owning a car represented freedom. To the next generation, not owning a car will represent freedom."

All of these changes are occurring essentially because of one app.


"The impact is more than economic. Every aspect of the global industrial social order is being transformed by software."

  • Just like how language and money, but A LOT more powerful. Software can go wherever money and language can go and beyond. "Software can also eat both, and take them to places they can't go alone."

Because the impact is so dramatic, the risk of being on the wrong side of this transformation is costly. This is true at all levels: from individuals to businesses to nations.

My Thoughts

This essay helped me understand how a technology's effect could be subtle yet profound. It now makes sense to me how the future of software is being underestimated. 

Pocket Casts: My Favorite Podcast App

When the podcast industry was at its infancy, you had to go through the iTunes music app in order to subscribe to podcasts.

Now that the podcast industry has blown up, there are many ways you could listen to podcasts. If you go to your app store and search for "podcast," what you'll see is a seemingly never ending list of options. On top of that there are things like Spotify or Soundcloud. Even video recordings on YouTube are becoming popular. 

Over the years I have tried more than a handful of podcast apps. I wouldn't say that one app is objectively better than all the rest since they are designed to meet different needs for different people. But the one that I like the best is Pocket Casts.

It's funny, this is an app that I tried a few years ago but immediately abandoned because it was too simple for me. Recently it won me back when I discovered that they now have a desktop version that seamlessly syncs up with the mobile app. That was the deal-maker for me. 

This tool is very convenient for me because, while on my computer, I often find a certain podcast episode that I want to listen to. Now I don't have to locate and open up my phone, look up the name of the podcast and put that episode on my playlist. Instead I can go straight to the desktop app and start listening to it. And if I decide to stop, it'll be waiting for me on my phone with the progress synced up. 

There are many other features that make this app great. Some of my favorites are that it gives you stats about your listening history and it has a feature called trim silence, which automatically reduces the length of the podcast. 

It also has a smooth and elegant UI. 

Pocket Casts is available both on android and iOS. 

The mobile app costs $3.99 and the desktop service is $9, but with a 14 day free trial. Both are just a one time payment. 

One interesting thing about Pocket Casts is that it recently got acquired by a couple of big podcast networks. This is usually a scary thing because it could mean other interests might mess with the quality of the product, but after I listened to an interview with the creator, who is still leading the company, I am actually excited for the future of Pocket Casts.